It is very interesting to see how we as a community of believers can, at times, lose our Catholic culture and consciousness. There was a time, when the majority of Catholics would instinctively know that we use the Crucifix in our liturgical celebrations rather than an ‘empty’ cross. Thus there was a time when our liturgical documents loosely used the word ‘cross’ even when referring to the ‘crucifix’, taking it for granted that Catholics would know. Furthermore, in the Latin version of the documents, the word ‘crux’, which literally means ‘cross’, was used also to refer to the crucifix.
After the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many people started to introduce ‘empty’ crosses for liturgical use, and even cited the liturgical document’s reference to the ‘cross’, to justify it. A great example of this was the Good Friday veneration of the cross. Soon, ‘empty’ crosses also started to appear in our Churches rather than those with a corpus on them. It took Pope Benedict XVI to remind us of the Catholic tradition and culture, and documents started to come out to explain the importance of using the crucifix – ie cross with a corpus on it. As an example, a clarification was made for the Good Friday celebration: use a Crucifix! – A Cross with a Corpus on it!.
Why the crucifix rather than an empty cross? The corpus, or figure, on the crucifix emphasises the love that Christ embodied – and the love and suffering He endured for our salvation. After Christ rose from the dead the cross/crucifix has been a symbol of victory of sin over hatred, and of good over evil. Apart from Christ who died on it, the cross is nothing more than a symbol of cruelty and torture.
In this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 16:21-27), Jesus asks us to make the cross something personal; “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me….”. Our crosses represent the sufferings, persecutions, martyrdoms, indifference, moral struggles, and even hatred at times, which every follower of Christ is bound to meet. It is can also symbolise the ‘dying to self’, an expression of love of others.
While each one of us faces our own cross – we must take courage for we are not alone. We must remember that in every cross that comes our way, God who is timeless has been there, and He still walks with us. And we can take comfort that we are following someone who led by example; and has proven victorious. As the Exultet, the Easter proclamation during the Easter Vigil Mass reminds us: “O Felix Culpa…..” – O Happy Fault, that merited so great a Redeemer!
God Bless, Fr Michael